CinéShow at 20: Theatre Owners of Mid-America gather in Dallas

Cinemas Features

“I am not a boots-on-the-ground exhibitor,” Todd Halstead contends. “I am a policy guy and my perspective on the industry has largely been informed by the legislative or regulatory issues of the day.” In his role as executive director of Theatre Owners of Mid-America (TOMA), that is certainly a good qualification for the many tasks at hand. Even better, Halstead says, “running CinéShow has opened up this new world where I have learned so much about the industry and the movie theatres we serve. My favorite moments from the convention truly come from meeting people from every corner of the cinema ecosystem and learning how they all interconnect. It has made me a better advocate for exhibition.”

Advocacy, education and making connections are at the heart of every trade association, he knows. “Over most of the last two decades, CinéShow was considered more a Texas exhibition event. But with the creation of Theatre Owners of Mid-America in 2015, CinéShow has turned into a true regional event. It attracts movie theatre owners from Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and other states throughout the nation… I think the word has gotten out. We had 250 or so registrants in 2015 and close to 450 last year.” The 2018 edition runs August 27-29 at the Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center in Dallas, TX.

Asked about the 20th anniversary of TOMA’s trademark event, Halstead gives credit to Byron Berkley of Foothills Entertainment. In addition to serving on the board of national NATO, Berkley is one of the founding fathers of the regional convention. “Without his dedication there would be no CinéShow.” Halstead will not let “Byron undersell himself. He is a driving force within a core group of exhibitors who really are the reason this show exists and continues to prosper.”

Berkley happily confirms that he is still having fun. “It is like being on my second honeymoon,” he chuckles. “It is wonderful. I love it. It is a lot of work and we have been very fortunate to have had so many dedicated people involved over the years. CinéShow is a joint venture that is all volunteer-driven. After Todd came onboard a few years ago, he has done a great deal to take CinéShow to another level, improving upon it and bringing in a lot more excitement.”

There have been just too many anecdotes to recall, he says, though one of the first mishaps sticks in his mind as far from representative of future developments. “We started in October 1998 with a board meeting at the old Cinemark offices that became the genesis of the concept,” Berkley recalls. “It was just a small tabletop tradeshow with a bunch of card tables. I remember one of them just collapsing because it was not set up right.”

Since those early days, Halstead confirms that CinéShow’s core mission has remained intact, “which is to bring exhibitors and their industry partners together to conduct business and learn from one another. It is our goal every year to create an environment that fosters innovative thinking, networking and new alliances.” He goes on to acknowledge “the amazing support we have received not only from movie theatre operators, but from our industry partners. If you look at the pictures from 20 years ago to now, you will see many of the same faces on the tradeshow floor.”

Equally of note, at the same time “we are constantly seeing new companies and partners coming to the event. The tradeshow has grown from a handful of exhibitors in 1998 to more than 90 registered booths in 2017.” Studios and film distributors too “have been fantastic partners of CinéShow, and we look forward to growing those bonds well into the future… We also have had great partners in exhibition who have made the studio presentations happen, including Cinemark and Alamo Drafthouse.”

And Studio Movie Grill helped to expand the show to Monday night by hosting a dinner-and-a-movie event. “There was concern people would not come in early, but those concerns were quickly dispelled. It is a terrific way to kick off the convention and it gets bigger every year. [SMG founder/chief executive officer] Brian Schultz’s team puts on good times, especially [regional sales manager for Dallas/Fort Worth] Dawn Stanley, who spearheads development of this wonderful red-carpet evening. For the last two years, the event has proven so popular that we have had to open multiple auditoriums to accommodate our guests. It also helps that our studio partners do such a great job with the movies and support they provide.”

What are some of the hot topics Halstead expects to be discussed during CinéShow? “What is not a hot topic in our industry right now?” he rightfully asks in response, referring to “more than ten seminar ideas that we have culled down for the sake of time.” Two of the top topics are “Innovations in Movie Ticketing” and “Virtual Print Reality.” Now that VPFs are running out, it is an opportune time for “industry technology gurus to discuss the future of service contracts, content distribution, the current state of equipment, and what equipment is coming next.” Halstead also confirms that “a panel of experts will discuss key factors and trends behind the growth and demand for ticketing innovations,” including subscription-based models and mobile applications. Another round of experts “will address the questions that large and small exhibitors ask themselves when looking to go the dine-in route.” While food and film have “become commonplace in many areas of the country,” Halstead has found “there is still a lot to learn, especially for our independent members.” He mentions “multiple considerations including tradeoff between seating capacity and per-caps, the cost of renovations, and the complexity of scheduling movies around kitchen capacity, increased labor costs and regulation.”

“Last year,” Halstead notes, “we had the privilege of having NATO’s Phil Contrino moderate a panel that gave exhibitors insight on how to drive attendance of Millennial moviegoers and delved into what’s important to Millennial employees. This year, Barbara Gromacki, vice president of human resources for Marcus Theatres, will lead a workshop on how to effectively lead a multi-generation work force. Anybody who attended the human-resources panel she moderated at CinemaCon,” Halstead confirms, “will know to expect a very informative presentation. I was speaking with her the other day and she highlighted an amazing point: For the first time in U.S. history, there are five generations employed in the workforce.”

Halstead has been forcefully working on making sure that those tabletops are coming together. “Every year we build the tradeshow in new and different ways. Last year was record-breaking in size. This year we sold out in record time. As with last year, luxury seating is king, with seven seating companies exhibiting on the tradeshow floor. Texas exhibitors are also leading the way in the development of family entertainment centers. Exhibitors are learning that adding entertainment components to their operations can increase moviegoing and create new revenue streams. This year we will have several amusement game distributors joining the show.”

Reflecting that support, CinéShow honors “an industry partner who represents the highest-quality levels of service and operations to exhibitors in our region.” The board determined that the late Frank Liberto truly embodied that very spirit. “So much so that we have renamed our ‘Vendor of the Year’ award the Frank Liberto Award. While I never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Liberto, his dedication and leadership are known throughout the industry and clearly reflected within the Ricos family and company. We are really excited and proud to celebrate the life of Mr. Liberto at this year’s CinéShow.”

Another celebration is being hosted together with and to benefit Variety of Texas (see our story on the following pages). “I think it is fantastic that Walter Hebert is receiving the ‘Texan of the Year’ Award. Such a deserved recognition,” Halstead enthuses. “Movie theatre owners give back to their communities every day and in so many ways. But the industry’s support of Variety is something special. As they say, ‘Variety is the Heart of Show Business’ and I cannot imagine a better partner for CinéShow. We greatly appreciate the support of exhibitors and industry partners. These regional shows are important to the industry and without their support CinéShow would not exist.”